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'The Neon Demon' Film Review: A skin-deep thriller about the ugly side of being beautiful

June 24, 2016Ben MK

Is Nicolas Winding Refn shaping himself to become this generation's David Lynch? If so, he's certainly not being shy about it, as he makes his ambitions plainly obvious with The Neon Demon, a film that oozes Refn's signature style, and which also seems to be inspired in part by Lynch's Mulholland Dr.

Like Naomi Watts' character in Mulholland Dr., the heroine of The Neon Demon is a small town girl who has just arrived in the big city. Only 16-years-old, fresh-faced Jesse (Elle Fanning) aspires to make it big in L.A.'s cutthroat modelling industry. But while her youthful beauty soon has photographers, fashion designers and a makeup artist named Ruby (Jena Malone) fawning over her, it also incurs the wrath of the competition, namely a couple of jealous waifs named Gigi and Sarah (Bella Heathcoate and Mad Max: Fury Road's Abbey Lee).

For better or worse, The Neon Demon follows along the same lines as its predecessor, 2013's Only God Forgives, which is to say that this is yet another case of style triumphing over substance. Make no mistake, though, because when The Neon Demon is at its best, it's flat-out hypnotic, ensnaring audiences with trance-like rhythms and synthesized beats. At its worst, however, it feels like a music video that's outstayed its welcome, perplexing to no end with its milieu of random imagery, all of which is strung together by a threadbare, at times illogical, plot.

From a mountain lion prowling around a motel run by a creepy Keanu Reeves to a make-out session between Jesse and her own reflection, there's no shortage of head-scratching visuals on tap. Of course, it wouldn't be a Nicolas Winding Refn film if it didn't also make viewers squirm in their seats, and Refn has outdone himself this time, incorporating necrophilia and cannibalism — not to mention a deepthroat scene with a knife — into his macabre opera of lust and vanity. Honestly, it's a feat that Refn has managed to cram this much depravity into one movie.

Needless to say, Drive remains Refn's most commercially accessible movie-to-date. But in an age where we're constantly bombarded with sequels, remakes and adaptations, you have to at least respect a filmmaker who has the balls to push the boundaries of the medium. Without a doubt, The Neon Demon will divide — not to mention, gross out — the general moviegoing public. But for those who know and love Refn's filmography, it's as gorgeously surreal, darkly humorous and batshit crazy as anything he's ever committed to celluloid.

The Neon Demon releases June 24th, 2016 from D Films. The film has an MPAA rating of R for disturbing violent content, bloody images, graphic nudity, a scene of aberrant sexuality, and language. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 57 Mins.

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